Tacstrat Analysis: Procrastination over the Pipeline


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Conceived by a Pakistani civil engineer in the 1950s, and brought on the table between the concerned parties in 1995, the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project has remained on the forefront, and brushed aside with an unbecoming ease. The pipeline that aims to connect Iran’s biggest gas field in South Pars with neighboring Pakistan and India has become a matter of global interest. Pakistan’s energy crisis and Iran’s economic boycott, owing to the Khomeini regime’s adamancy with respect to their nuclear program, make the pipeline a win-win bargain for the two. Yet, with Pakistan’s instability, and an inability to pick a side, the pipeline, as we enter 2013, remains a far fetched thought. Despite recent positive angle, and signing of contracts on 4 February 2012 between the two governments, we realize this is not the first time Pakistan has come so close and withdrawn.

Summer 2012 took the energy crisis to new heights altogether. With load-shedding in many of Punjab’s housing colonies at a shocking 20 hours a day, the gap between supply and demand had reached a shocking 40%. The battlefield over Punjab’s assailing energy shortage became the perfect ground to exploit political grievances. At steak mostly remains Punjab’s once flourishing industrial sector. With ‘thermal power’ as the only reliable alternative, the high cost of this substitute has shut down various plants. Those still functioning, owing to the expenses of productions fail to compete in the market where growing economies like Bangladesh are standing on the same platform. Moreover, private power houses have either slashed down production, or shut down completely because of the government’s failure to pay them.

While Pakistan gets embroiled in a circular debt, that stood at a tall $880 million last summer, as the government pays only when the power generation houses are on the verge of suing, structural problems fail to be addressed, and the sloppy mammoth continues to move at its own painfully slow pace. Pakistani academics, politicians and technocrats, with the help of allies have looked into various regional and local solutions. A heated debate was over the Kalabagh dam. Theoretically the dam could have also prevented half of Punjab and Sindh from flooding, and millions worth of damage (not to mention the lives), but as a solution to our energy crisis, the local and federal cannot agree on a solution. Secondly, the United States, that wants to isolate Iran, and simultaneously make the Afghan and Central Asian bloc economically superior, expects Pakistan to conform.

A third option, newly tapped, is cashing on the hot, sunny sweltering heat of the plains, more specifically the sunlight. November 2012 the Punjab government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the German government. The best part about solar panels is it’s a onetime investment and runs for free on sunlight on its own. With the PML-N working on these alternatives, it is understood by the federal government that the power shortage entails Pakistan cannot be selective, but must look into multiple sources. The solar project, if executed effectively alone can tap part of the than 2.4 million megawatts of light energy going to waste. Renewable sources a safe and environment friendly solution.

Looking into innovative ways to resolve the energy deficit, which is taking a grave toll on Pakistan’s industry and standard of life, however is not sufficient. At this point Pakistan, like in most critical political points, is again torn between two opposing ends. Our alliance with the United States, India’s silent conformity, Pakistan remains in a tough loop. The United States wants to isolate Iran: straight, blunt, and no flowery diplomacy to coat that bitter pill. Iran has failed to play the game by the standards of the ‘peace decorum’ and since the IAEA remains dissatisfied with their nuclear aspirations, the only option is to boycott Iran, impose economic sanctions. The sanctions have been showing their impact and unless the Khomeini government builds alliances in the region, to successfully bypass the international ‘payment’ transactions, there is little hope for them economically.

Pakistan hence becomes a key player, and one that has to make a quick decision. Only two weeks back Hilary Clinton made it clear that joining hands with Iran will only force the United States to blacklist Pakistan as well. And of course, given the fragile state of our economy who wants to be in the bad books of international coercion squad? A vicious cycle once again. The pros versus cons of going ahead with the pipeline project have been contemplated for years now. There is no solution. India had the luxury of backing out. Firstly, after economic steak (to begin with the capital to invest), India’s economic well being to a great degree is dependent of the success of the TAPI pipeline (Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). The United States also signed a nuclear contract, a polite way of returning the favor. In Pakistan’s case, the promise of TAPI in the long run, with any compensation remains an unattractive bargain. Also, a general rough patch with the United States since the war on terror has made Pakistan suspicious of the US’ word. It would be accurate to say the United States has been a fair weathered friend.

Regional stability and keeping our options open on the diplomatic grid seem to be smarter options. The United State’s threats have made Pakistan cautious. Two years ago the pipeline, in the imagination of Tehran and Islamabad stood exactly where it stands today. By 2014, we had projected the project to be complete and pumping. And yet as Islamabad chooses to procrastinate, the energy, economic and law and order situations worsen. Tehran shook hands with Islamabad this Monday, 4 February 2013. For the domestic government to actually go forward with this decision would be a bold move, sound to have consequences. Could Balochistan’s security worsen, or perhaps another shootout at the Afghan-Pakistan border, we can only find out. But taking a firm stand today is a far better move than waiting for a miracle from the land of broken promises.

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